The 'chinga tu madre' whistle is known throughout Mexico and heard everywhere from sporting events to traffic jams. (Photo: Nathaniel Janowitz for VICE News)

The Beloved Mexican Whistle That Means ‘Fuck You’

It’s probably impossible to find a Mexican that doesn’t recognize the shrill sound of the “chinga tu madre” whistle. How it’s used can cause people to either laugh or fight.

MEXICO CITY—As masked wrestlers Virus and El Audaz threw punches and kicks, jumped from the top ropes, and suplexed each other at Mexico City’s legendary lucha libre, a kid dressed in a red, white, and green mask watching from the bleachers let out a loud and infamous whistle. Five sharp tones, in a distinct warbling cadence, that signifies arguably Mexico's most notorious five-syllable phrase — “chinga tu madre.” 


Daniel Rodríguez, 12, can’t do that at school, he said, “because the teacher will scold me,” a wily smirk poking out from beneath his lucha libre mask.

While chinga tu madre literally translates as “fuck your mother,” it’s used in a more colloquial sense the way that English speakers throw around the phrase “fuck you.” Between friends, it’s a fun jab to a buddy, but with enemies, strangers, or friends gone wrong, it can lead to bloodshed.

But what’s unique about chinga tu madre is its accompanying whistle, heard and known in every corner of Mexico. The whistle — which mimics the melodic rhythm of how locals often say chin-ga tu ma-dre is quick to slip from the lips of people at sporting events when fans are pissed off at the refs or opponents, in tense traffic moments, or as a chummy dig to a pal or neighbor you see from afar. The whistle and the word chingar that it’s derived from have become uniquely Mexican gifts to the Spanish language, and colorfully embraced in everything from advertisements to political speeches. 


Daniel Rodríguez let the whistle rip while at a wrestling event, where he doesn't need to worry about getting in trouble. (Photo: Nathaniel Janowitz for VICE News)

On a Saturday afternoon in Mexico’s City’s famed Alameda park, local David Gil demonstrated the chinga tu madre whistle to VICE News, and explained that it can be used affectionately.

”In the barrio, it's like ‘this carnal (homie), qué pedo carnal (what’s up using a word that means fart)’,” he said, hollering to some imaginary friend in the distance. “It speaks to the carnal, with the carnalismo.”


He ruminated on the whistle’s use and its accompanying phrase with his friend/YouTuber partner known as Smyler Crazy while taking a break from their own day attempting to film a video about the strangest combinations of food the park’s vendors have ever been asked to make (popcorn with onions and cheese, being one such example)

“With friends, yeah, I can say ‘chinga tu madre,’ right?,”  said a smiling Smyler Crazy, before his demeanor became more serious. “But right now, if someone walks by and I tell them chinga tu madre [angrily], we’ll end up in vergazos.”

In this context, Smyler Crazy meant “punches”, using another dynamic slang word in Mexican Spanish, verga, most accurately translated as “cock.”

The pair unconsciously rattled off local slang terms;, “no mames”, “qué tranza”, “güey”, explicitly showing how for foreigners in Mexico, there are two lexicons to learn: Spanish and Mexican slang.

The essence of the whistle’s vulgarity comes from the word chingar, a transitory word that in this form can be both a verb and a noun. In its most basic sense, chingar, has a sexual connotation, similar to the word fuck: “Te voy a chingar” — “I’m going to fuck you.” 


But that phrase can change depending on the situation, said David Gil, “like when you are fighting and they tell you, ‘te voy a chingar, perra.’ (I’m going to fuck you up, bitch)…or when you’re mom tells you, ‘te voy a chingar, cabrón (asshole/bastard), you got a zero on the pinche (fucking) exam’.” 

Mexican linguist Pilar Montes de Oca told VICE News that “chingar is, I think, a one of a kind word in the world, not only in Spanish. In many languages.”

While it exists in the vocabulary of practically all Spanish speaking countries, it’s long been considered a curse word in most and its general colloquial use remained somewhat limited. But not in Mexico, where it evolved into the country’s “most important word,” she said.

Montes de Aca, who wrote a dictionary called El Chingonario with hundreds of “uses, reuses, and abuses” of chingar, said that there are some other candidates (pedo/a, puto/a, etc), “but none of them have the same span.” 

“In Mexico chingar is a big deal because we have a lot of uses,” she said, fluctuating between English and Spanish. “It is a curse, but you have a lot of things like ‘ya chingué’ is ‘I did it!’ But then ‘ya me chingué’ is ‘puta (whore)! Ya me chingué’ is they fucked me, or somebody fucked me, or I fucked myself.’’


No definitive consensus exists on the origin of the word. Linguists have myriad theories, some claiming its derived from the Indigenous Mesoamerican Nahuatl language, while others allege its origins go back to the Romani people who lived in and around Spain around the 15th century. Montes de Oca believes that it traces back to Old Latin.


It would be nearly impossible to find a Mexican who doesn't recognize the whistle. (Photo: Nathaniel Janowitz for VICE News)

But most would agree that Mexico was the fertile terrain where chingar bloomed over the past several centuries.

Chingar is all over Mexico, you use it from Tijuana to Cancún,” said Montes de Oca, noting how it’s all over the United States too “because they have a lot of Mexican people there.” 

And in recent years the use of chingar and other Mexican slang has spread rapidly in many Spanish-speaking countries due to a wide range of factors, from social media, to the booming popularity of Mexican music, television, and film.

The chingar lexicon in Mexico is infinite, similar to how one of the English language’s most prominent modern curse word connoisseurs, Ricky from the globally popular Canadian television show Trailer Park Boys, limitlessly conjugates and metamorphoses “fuck”. 


You can say chinga, sort of just as fuck, when you accidentally stub your toe. If someone is en (in) chinga, it could mean anything from being in a hurry, to overworked or being exploited, depending on the context. There’s many kinds of chingaderas, like you can call your broken-down car a chingadera (piece of crap), or when your friend is on their chingadera: it's their same ol’ bullshit. As a measurement: having un chingo de something, as in “a fuck ton of” mushrooms. Or someone can be an adjective, like chingable, “fuckable,” when referencing the person you’ve got the hots for. 

Oscar Osorio, 60, who meandered through the park where VICE News was reporting, said that “‘qué chingados’ is used a lot, when you are questioning me about something like ‘hey, why did you do this?’ ‘Qué chingados te importa? (what the fuck do you care?)’”

It can be turned into a nickname like in the 2015 Documentary Now! episode DRONEZ: The Hunt for El Chingon, a merciless takedown of early VICE documentaries where Bill Hader and Fred Armisen portray clueless journalists stumbling around Mexico hunting for a fictional ruthless drug trafficker nicknamed, obviously, El Chingón (based loosely on the real life capo, Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán).


Or a person can be described as chingón/a, said Osorio, “someone who is very very intelligent, very bold, very astute.” 

Something can be chingón/a: “really good, really fantastic,” said Leí Philemore, an 18-year Mexico City high school senior. But if something is even better, it can be expanded to chingonsísimo, she said, because “it’s really really really really really chido (Mexican slang for cool). Like doing something that is almost impossible. Like, wow!”


A man uses his tongue to demonstrate how to make the whistle as loud as possible. (Photo: Nathaniel Janowitz for VICE News)

But perhaps no variation of chingar is as complex as la chingada, a mythic place where someone is sent to essentially fuck off.

Nobel Prize laureate Octavio Paz, generally considered the most prominent Mexican writer of the 20th century, famously dissected the word chingar and la chingada in his 1950 book The Labyrinth of Solitude.

“When we say, ‘vete a (go to) la chingada’, we send a person to a distant place. Distant, vague and indeterminate. To the country of broken and worn-out things. A gray country, immense and empty, that is not located anywhere,” wrote Paz. “It is a hollow word. It says nothing. It is Nothingness itself.”  

But according to Alberto González, a local wearing a Descendants T-shirt enjoying a sunny day in the Alameda with his wife Carmen,“there’s actually a place in Mexico called La Chingada. I don’t remember where it is, but it exists.”


Whether or not La Chingada is actually a real location is debatable. Numerous people asked about it claimed that it’s a real town in Mexico without being able to say where. There is reportedly a small town in the eastern state of Veracruz home to just a handful of people called La Chingada according to the census website, but it doesn’t appear on Google maps. A private ranch in the western state of Jalisco goes by the name of La Chingada, according to a couple old large signs around it. In the border state of Nuevo Leon, a nature park now calls itself La Chingada with two small waterfalls, but it appears to be a relatively new rebranding. Even Mexico’s President Andrés Manuel López Obrador inherited a family property in the southern state of Chiapas called La Chingada, which he said is similarly named after a ranch owned by a famous Mexican Zapatista revolutionary named Genovevo de la O.

Montes de Oca, the linguist who also wrote a second book titled The Manual for Sending to La Chingada, called it “an abstract in every Mexican mind.”


“It's like Nirvana or Aztlán,” she said. “La Chingada is a place…that everybody in Mexico has been, because everybody has been sent to la chingada.”

She fired off examples: your boss shooting you down when you ask for a raise; your partner breaking up with you unexpectedly; “me mandó a (they sent me to) La Chingada.”

Mexico’s limitless “creativity” with chingar, she said, is an example of why “language is so alive.”

“From generation to generation, you inherit that word,” she said. “My grandfather used it and my father used it, and now I use it and my children use it.” 

Which can become a little tricky, she reflected ironically, when she and other mothers become “exasperated” and tell their children ‘’’ya, chinga tu madre, callate (shut up)’ and she is the mother, you know?”

“It's like a boomerang, it came back to me. But you are so annoyed, you say ‘chinga tu madre, ya’,” she chuckled. 


Pilar Montes de Oca wrote both a dictionary about the hundreds of uses of chingar, and a manuel for sending someone to La Chingada. (Photo: Nathaniel Janowitz for VICE News)

Victor García Córdova, a lexicographer in the cabinet of the Mexican Academy of Language, told VICE News that a lot of Indigenous and rural communities “converse through whistles.” 

He referenced the Chinantec people of the Oaxacan Sierra who guard one of the world’s most advanced whistle languages. But beyond complete languages, certain sorts of other whistles live in the Mexican zeitgeist, and “have now become a kind of brand and code of a national civility.”


A single whistle is basically short form for saying yes; two descending somewhat negatively would mean no. One long whistle slowly rising generally means to tell someone to hurry up, certainly justifiable when waiting in a lengthy line where the person at the cashier is taking forever to decide on their order. 

“[Whistles] convert themselves into keys. Sometimes there are families that only open the door to the street when there’s a specific whistle,” said García Córdova. “A lot of gangs and criminals use whistles like passwords, well generally in the whole world, but in Mexico it’s really accentuated.”

The chinga tu madre whistle has become “iconic,” he said, because “I believe there is not a single Mexican, unless they are less than a year old or don’t know how to speak, that would not recognize the whistle as something negative.”

In the past if someone did that whistle or said some form of chingar on television or the radio, “they would be punished.” But that’s changing, said García Córdova. 

In recent years though, variations of the word have become more and more acceptable in modern Mexico. Everyone from local beer companies to Coca Cola have used the word in advertisements and on billboards, while politicians make puns using different forms of chingar to appeal to a wide range of voters. In bars and karaoke joints around the country patrons may holler out the hook to quintessential Mexican rock band Molotov’s 1997 hit Chinga Tu Madre, “Chingo yo (fuck me), chingas tú (go fuck yourself), chinga tu madre.”

“We Mexicans can characterize ourselves, if it had to be said in a basic way, that we are chingones, right? That would be our own, self-imposed label, because we like to feel that way,” said García Córdova. “So that word no longer has a marked context, it stops being a bad word and becomes a word of identity, right? We are chingones.”

Follow Nathaniel Janowitz on Twitter: @ngjanowitz